Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
February 11, 2009 - February 4, 2009

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

YouTube Wednesday:

"Conservative" Moments

Think of the Scandy subtitles as an added filip
highlighting American exceptionalism.

H/T NRO. Back when IP was doing his 25 American movies list, he referenced the fact that John J. Miller at the National Review was working on a list of 25 "Conservative" movies. It's being rolled out now for your perusal at The Corner, but more interesting than that list is a spinoff list at Big Hollywood of the "Top Five Conservative Moments" on film. I'm still not sure these are expressly conservative moments. They strike me as deeply American moments in the best sense, but I'll stop quibbling. Fact is, they're good and heartening at a time when we all need it.

I strongly recommend that you all go take a look at the Big Hollywood post and also read the comments section, where numerous other nominations (and links) are offered by readers.

Just to remain true to the spirit of the exercise I've posted a nomination of my own above. I'd do more but I'm sure you all have your own ideas, and I hope you'll share them along with your thoughts on everyone else's.

Meanwhile, I've got to run. Other voices, other rooms, don't you know

YouTube Wednesday:

Favre Retires Again Again Again...

Yeah, okay. Swap out the Green Bay logos for Jets crap. Same thing.

EAGLE EYES. uh, really getting sick of the Favre routine. Really really sick of it. GO. AWAY. Is that direct enough for you, old man? A 40-year-old jock who snuffles and cries like a 16-year-old girl isn't cool, no matter how many more interceptions he's thrown than everyone in else in the whole history of NFL football. We don't care how much John Madden and Tony Kornheiser love your ass. They're welcome to it. Bend over for them, why don't you? So they'll keep talking about you for sixteen hours per telecast on the Sunday and Monday Night Football Funnies. Yours has to be the dreariest, most annoyingly eternal farewell since Boromir's death scene in the Lord of the Rings.


And in case you can't understand these subtle hints, here are two additional tips:

Sorry. That one probably wasn't clear enough because baseball isn't football, which is a game of deeply tender emotions played by men who think Milk is the greatest movie ever made. So. Try this little bit of advice instead.

Maybe it helps hearing it from a woman.

Jeez. He should have tried playing in Philadelphia, where the fans who love you the most hate your [expletive deleted] guts. That would have made a man out of him. If anything could. Which it can't.

In the meantime, I'll stick with Unitas and Bednarik if I'm feeling in the mood for NFL hero worship. Which is a mood I mostly don't ever get into anymore.

So many crybabies, so few old soldiers who know enough to fade away without a lot of infantile blubbering.

Had it with you.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Footprints of the New Deal

O CAPTAIN.... There's no idea so dumb and feckless that it won't be tried again, no matter how many times it has failed in the past. I'm tempted to stop there because it says all that this post can possibly say, no matter how long it goes on. But. I have to go on, because everything old is new again, and I'm old enough to know that the mass media adulation of a fool president has happened before and that that adulation was so deep and successful in PR terms that it bodes ill for what we're about to endure.

Having given away the whole point of the post in my lede, I will tantalize you to read more by telling you that my ancestral memory goes all the way back to the first messiah of the twentieth century, with personal recollections of what that time was really like. Further, I promise to be as amusing as possible in (re)acquainting you youngsters with the New Deal as it was portrayed by the MSM of the time and what it was in reality. I'm going to close on a nearly impossible thing: asking you to sit through a ten minute interview with an author who wrote a book about the economic facts of the New Deal, which couldn't be any more at odds with our new president's characterization of its mythological salvational power:

Some of the criticisms really are with the basic idea that government should intervene at all in this moment of crisis. Now, you have some people, very sincere, who philosophically just think the government has no business interfering in the marketplace. And, in fact, there are several who’ve suggested that FDR [President Roosevelt] was wrong to interfere back in the New Deal. They’re fighting battles that I thought were resolved a pretty long time ago.

Have I made the challenge difficult enough? Then I'll up the ante by telling you that I think we, as Americans, are equal to this challenge. We can come through this impossible post with our heads held high and our confidence in the future undiminished.

Let's begin with the fun stuff. The biggest thing the FDR administration had in common with the Obama administration was the worshipful attitude of the MSM and Hollywood. For example, everyone who listens to NPR will love this bouquet to the WPA:

In a loving mood yet, are we? All those actors, acting for FDR. There's more.

The biggest initiative Roosevelt launched in his first term was the largest intrusion by the government into the free marketplace in the history of the United States. The description accompanying a YouTube video since withdrawn provides a good overview of its scope:

The centerpiece of early New Deal legislation was the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933... Under this legislation, businesses were placed into cartel-like structures, seen as instruments of economic planning. Codes of good conduct were to guide business operations. The codes included a general right to collective bargaining that were later formalized in the Wagner Act of 1935. Cooperating firms could display the "Blue Eagle." This video clip from a Hollywood musical makes the message clear to audiences of the time: flag-Roosevelt-eagle.

Here's how the newsreels treated the most radical big government reform FDR attempted in his four terms:

Initially, of course, the NRA was fantastically popular. Everyone was for it. And it was launched with lavish claims about what it would mean for labor, and unions, and average working people. Government was finally going to set things right for "working people." (You know the drill.) The thing was, the NRA was a gigantic turkey. It didn't bring about national recovery. Instead, its massive bureaucracy crushed small businessmen -- the ones who create most of the jobs -- under the heavy foot of the federal government in a way that even the FDR-adoring press (eventually) had to acknowledge: And, finally, the federal government had to retreat and confess the failure.

The real distinguishing characteristic of the New Deal was not economic science but economic experimentation. FDR had a free hand in his first term and he was willing to try anything that sounded good to voters. Most of his programs got favorable press coverage, including the WPA (and its partner the PWA), the CCC, and the AAA. They poured money into the economy through channels that looked as if they were helping the common man, but somehow the overall economy -- staggering under a burden of federal debt securities that was competing for investment dollars with the private sector -- never actually got better. The NRA was struck down by the Supreme Court and then so was the AAA, the Agricultural Adjustment Act (for which there's no available glowing YouTube video, but only this arid Wikipedia entry):

Large farms benefited from the AAA policy of reducing surpluses, having "gross farm income increase by 50% during the first three years of the New Deal" This was achieved because large landowners would evict tenant farmers and sharecroppers in order to keep them from farming their leased acreage; the landowner would then receive the payment for not farming the land. Furthermore, those same land owners, having forced out some of the competition, would then use those displaced farmers as cheap farm labor.

The increase in gross income for farmers was largely paid for through government subsidies. Despite the reduced production, food price increases between 1933 and 1937 were negligible. Consumers bore the brunt of higher food prices and were "horrified with its policy of enforced scarcity. A Gallup Poll printed in The Washington Post revealed that a majority of the American public opposed the AAA.

The Supreme Court ultimately said no. That's when FDR decided that the constitution was standing in his way and attempted to expand the size of the Supreme Court, so that he could appoint jurists who would approve his messianic plans to save the American capitalist system from itself. Interestingly, YouTube also contains no contemporaneous video coverage of this landmark assault on the constitution. Despite the fact that it marks the end of FDR's real influence with congress, the only video now available is a recent (and oddly cheerful) AP history retrospective that ends 1:30 into the following clip:

Does all this sound a little less 'hope and changey' than you might have expected from the greatest president in the twentieth century? It's certainly not what you were taught about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the savior of the capitalist system in America.

Well. I can assure you it's not true that everyone loved him. For once CP and I agree on something. His recollections are identical. CP's grandfather took care of five families throughout the Great Depression, providing employment where there was none to black families in his hometown. Yet he had to endure the humiliation of having his annual salary published in the local newspaper via an edict from the president of the United States. You see, he was making an obscene amount of money at the time, $15,000 or more. It was important that the common man know who the thieving capitalist enemy was. When CP's mother heard of FDR's death in 1944, she telephoned this estimable man and said, "FDR is dead. What happens now?" She'd never known another president since the age of ten. He replied simply, "Thank God, at last."

My own recollections are even darker. This man was my father. I knew him later, of course, when he was only remembering a president who had tried to turn the country against him and his family for his entire childhood and youth. I grew up hearing claims I never heard confirmed by the mainstream media, that FDR was a failure, that he deepened the Depression, that he was willing to do absolutely anything to get reelected, that he was the worst president the country ever had. And I came, in time, to know this about my father:

He flew in FDR's funeral, 750 ft below the ordered 1,000-ft altitude, to protest the deaths of multiple friends who died in the fog during the spurious NY Harbor submarine scare that helped get Roosevelt reelected in 1944.  While JFK was president, he insisted, with absolutely no evidence, that the man was a callow, drug-addicted, philandering hypocrite, bought into office by his Nazi-sympathizer bootlegger father, and that the whole Kennedy clan amounted to no more than the lowest of shanty Irish. He so despised LBJ that he counseled his son not to join up for the Vietnam War, "because there's no point fighting a war you're not allowed to win."

It's simply false that FDR was universally admired and that there was never any doubt his policies had rescued the American economy from the Great Depression. The truth is, there's a growing school of revisionist thought which asserts that FDR almost single-handedly kept the United States in a depression that could have been cured with a lot less government interference, no matter how much he is idolized by people who swallowed the MSM idolatry of the time. Shouldn't a president of the United States know that this would-be savior's legacy is vigorously disputed by real historians? Except that no one anywhere knows exactly what it is Obama studied in his school and college years. Here's a blog post from the day after his election:

Obama's past will now finally be put to rest -- never to be questioned or looked upon again. Hidden away by the Mainstream Media, Is there something in here he's trying to hide?

Let's see what we won’t have now going forward about President-Elect Obama. Truly a very 'mysterious' man:

1. Occidental College records -- Not released
2. Columbia College records -- Not released
3. Columbia Thesis paper -- “Not available”
4. Harvard College [sic] records -- Not released
5. Selective Service Registration -- Not released
6. Medical records -- Not released
7. Illinois State Senate schedule -- Not available
8. Your Illinois State Senate records -- Not available
9. Law practice client list -- Not released
10. Certified Copy of original Birth certificate -- Not released
11. Embossed, signed paper Certification of Live Birth -- Not released
12. Record of your baptism -- Not available
13. Copy of the video from that party with Rashid Khalidi -- Not released

Oh and one more thing Senator, I can't seem to find any articles you published as editor of the Harvard Law Review, or as a Professor at the University of Chicago. Can you explain that to me Sir?

Well, forget the explanations. There weren't any in the thirties, and there won't be any now. FDR talked a lot about the "Forgotten Man," meaning the out-of-work guy who elected Roosevelt four times. But even in FDR's day, there were souls who looked beyond his patrician populism and saw the real forgotten man he trampled in his rush to greatness:

The forgotten man... He works, he votes, generally he prays, but his chief business in life is to pay.

-- William Graham Sumner

Now. Are you ready for ten minutes of honesty about the New Deal? The title of the book is "The Forgotten Man," and its author exands on Sumner's definition as follows:

The type and formula of most schemes of philanthropy or humanitarianism is this: A and B put their heads together to decide what C shall be made to do for D. The radical vice of all these schemes, from a sociological point of view, is that C is not allowed a voice in the matter, and his position, character, and interests, as well as the ultimate effects on society through C's interests, are entirely overlooked. I call C the Forgotten Man. For once let us look him up and consider his case, for the characteristic of all social doctors is that they fix their minds on some man or group of men whose case appeals to the sympathies and the imagination, and they plan remedies addressed to the particular trouble; they do not understand that all the parts of society hold together and that forces which are set in action act and react throughout the whole organism until an equilibrium is produced by a readjustment of all interests and rights. They therefore ignore entirely the source from which they must draw all the energy which they employ in their remedies, and they ignore all the effects on other members of society than the ones they have in view. They are always under the dominion of the superstition of government, and forgetting that a government produces nothing at all, they leave out of sight the first fact to be remembered in all social discussion ? that the state cannot get a cent for any man without taking it from some other man, and this latter must be a man who has produced and saved it. This latter is the Forgotten Man.

Here's the ten minute interview I threatened you with earlier. I can't show it to you here (unexpectedly withdrawn) but I do have a teaser. Watch both and then enjoy the special dessert I've prepared for you.

Well done. Ready for a sweet glimpse of our shared future?  Please don't smack your lips.

The new New Deal is coming soon.

Batten down the, uh, whatever you can batten down. Trust me, the earth will shake.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Rand Redux

Ayn Rand. Trust me. You wouldn't want to take her on in person. Neither
 would Obama for that matter. She'd crucify him. Add your own punchline.
Of course, she's dead now. Which makes her much much easier to refute.

CAPITALISM. With the ascendancy of a messiah-based presidential administration, I'm starting to detect a resurgence of interest in Ayn Rand and her most important book, Atlas Shrugged. A few weeks ago, I heard a local Philadelphia talk radio host promoting a show he planned to do with one of Rand's advocates, and he started discussing Shrugged with callers, only belatedly admitting that he hadn't read the book himself (?!) Since then, I've heard other talkmeisters and pundits referencing Rand and Shrugged as prophetically, antidotally relevant to the massive redistributionist government buildup that now appears inevitable. Then, over the weekend, a site called Small Dead Animals linked to my recent More Simple Arithmetic post, and a brushfire argument about Rand (vis a vis IP) broke out among a few of the commenters there. It seems that Rand is gradually working her way back into the national debate, so I thought it appropriate to add two more cents of my own with the idea of helping neophytes navigate what are bound to be perpetually stormy waters.

Rand inspires extremely strong responses, pro and con, frequently from unexpected quarters. Newcomers to her work must be prepared for that. The most devoted fans, who call themselves objectivists, don't brook any criticism of her, even if it's couched in terms of agreement with her primary tenets. The haters are equally monolithic in their contempt. Yet some liberals, notably feminists, express some affection for her as an eccentric pioneer of women's emancipation. Many conservatives, on the other hand, despise her and feel compelled to belittle even those parts of her argument with which it would seem they must agree. All of which means that it's dangerous to start tossing her name around if you haven't actually read her work for yourself.

Back in October 2007, I wrote about Rand here after Michelle Malkin posted an entry honoring the fiftieth anniversary of Atlas Shrugged. An excerpt from my thoughts then that captures some of the reasons for the ongoing controversy:

Her loathing of the socialist egalitarianism [now] best exemplified by Berkeley and Hollywood leftists was utter, devoid of any shade of nuance. She didn't believe in income redistribution or a social safety net of any sort. Her ideal was a pure meritocracy in which absolutely unfettered capitalism rewards those who work, innovate, and take risks in the market. Not much is said about those who are incapable of work or unwilling to work. Presumably, they will learn when their straits become dire enough.

[Atlas Shrugged] is also unabashedly pro-American. One of the characters... delivers a five- or ten-page speech celebrating the fact that the United States is the only nation in history to employ its own initials ('U" superimposed on 'S') as the symbol of its currency, thus demonstrating the cardinal value of the nation (regardless of any cracker-barrel platitudes we may repeat as a pretense of altruism.) God, for example, is conspicuously absent from Atlas Shrugged; Rand was an atheist, which along with her ruggedly individualistic feminism, was all she had in common with the 'progressive' community... Nor is the atheism incidental. Rand was a product of the Soviet system, a supreme rationalist who created her philosophy in direct opposition to the equally atheistic rationalism of Marxism. Time and again she assaults the concept of "the greatest good for the greatest number," arguing that personal sacrifice is actually immoral and, correctly, that most of what we think of as sacrifice is not. The mother who goes hungry in order that her child may eat is not sacrificing anything. She is simply choosing an alternative she values more highly than her own physical well being. But the more abstract and remote from the individual such choices become, the less legitimate they become. At the extreme, the requirement to sacrifice personal well being in deference to the needs (or demands) of an entire populace amounts to annihilation of the individual self.

Rand's writings are as extreme -- and as unrealistically black-and-white -- as the rationalist totalitarian system her personal experience inspired her to oppose. That's why her books have always been most prized by those who read them very young. (I note that Michelle [Malkin] read Atlas Shrugged in high school, at about the same age I did.) Her sensationally radical opposition to a lot of unexamined social pieties provides a clarity that enables young minds to see a bigger picture they never knew was there. For most, the result is a kind of intellectual breakthrough which leads through time to a better educated and usually more temperate view of the ideal social contract; for example, one in which an individual may feel some responsibility for the well being of people he doesn't know personally, or in which a soldier may give up his life for his country without its being an immoral sacrifice.

It should be obvious that I'm not one of her uncritical admirers. But I do agree with much of her argument and will defend her against the most common charge leveled against her by the majority of her critics. She is not, as you will hear again and again, simplistic. What she is is pure. She is a pure capitalist, a pure rationalist, a pure atheist. That's why so much of the antipathy she inspires on the right and the left is so irrational. Emotion is the mud we slather over our intellectual inconsistencies to hide them from ourselves.

The conservatives who hate her do so because her vision of capitalism is every bit as heartless as liberal Democrats keep claiming it is in reality. When God and the leavening effects of Judeo-Christian morality are amputated from the social equation, what remains of the American economic tradition can be caricatured as cold-blooded social Darwinism, anti-moral in terms of the upbringing almost all Americans have had. Further, her rational disdain for what we might call abstract altruism mandates precisely the kind of foreign policy presently being espoused by her objectivist disciples -- let the rest of the world take care of itself. They're not worth our time, attention, money or blood unless it serves the immediate self-interest of those who choose to involve themselves in such ways. International business is okay. Foreign aid is thievery from the citizens who earned the money that's being given away.

Liberals hate her for even more compelling reasons. Above, I listed her purities: "She is a pure capitalist, a pure rationalist, a pure atheist." This is the wrong order in terms of the logic of her philosophy. It should be the reverse. Everything flows from the atheist assumption. If there is no God, no kindly supernatural force to suspend the physics of cause-and-effect or intervene on behalf of moral causes, then there is no rational basis whatever to act except out of pure self interest. What each of us has is our own life. Period. What rational sense can it possibly make to deprive, devalue, or shorten our own lives for the sake of utter strangers who are in exactly the same existential situation we are? In physiological terms, life is a contest. The strong win, eat well, mate more successfully, and perpetuate their genes. The weak lose and what rational basis is there for mourning that fact? If Dawkins is right about evolution and about his certainty that there is no God, then Rand is also necessarily right. She is the purer rationalist. Altruism is a self-destructive mirage, an ignorant hangover from the intoxicants of false religion and its derivatives, including such concepts as social justice, equality, and the idiotic myth of living harmoniously with each other and nature. The raging secularists of the left should be Randian objectivists. Somewhere in their damaged minds, they know that and so they need tons of mud. They hate, hate, hate her.

And all that hate is there even before we factor in Rand's absolute contempt for liberal political philosophy, all of which really is traceable to the marxist ideal of "the greatest good for the greatest number." The choice of capitalism as an organizing system for society is also ultimately rational in these terms, because it succeeds to a large degree in substituting financial risk for direct physical risk, which serves the self-interest of all the would-be 'alpha' pack leaders. A corollary but unintended additional consequence is that it also tends to reduce the direct physical risk of the pack 'betas' through 'omegas.'

This is what happens when you encounter a pure argument. It illuminates the impurities of your own positions, even the ones you think are rationally impeccable. The conservative who thinks he believes "let the unfettered market decide absolutely everything" must recognize that he doesn't really believe that. There are limits and the limits are defined by the extent to which his personal morality does put the good of others or the community as a whole above his own individual priorities. The atheist liberal who thinks a purely secular system of governance aimed at ensuring absolute equality must recognize that his flat moral assumptions are inconsistent with the physics of the universe his rationality insists on as fact. And if he is right about the universe and irrational in his moral certainties, then what else might he be wrong about? From there it is but a small step to realizing that the only experiments conducted thus far in purely atheistic government organizations have killed more of the people they were meant to protect than the sum total of all other governments in recorded human history. (Note, for example, that the rational desire to pretend that all pack members can be omegas is a specious stratagem of alphas who want to rule the largest possible packs. I guarantee you, Dawkins doesn't see himself dying a few years from now content in the knowledge that the actuarial tables of the National Health Service require his kidney transplant to be reassigned to an illiterate dockworker one third his age. Ditto Stalin and Castro. There are always alphas. Ask Dawkins. Or Dr. Tommyrot.)

Most of us, conservatives and liberals both, have more or less unthinkingly accepted whatever mix of reason and emotion we've assimilated from our own parents, our teachers, our peers, and the mass media. That's why adolescence is an ideal time to be struck by a lightning bolt (i.e., for you techie babies, an external power surge) that shocks the brain into new patterns of thought (er, compels a reboot). That's why in decades past, Ayn Rand had such a powerful effect on young readers. Not that older readers were too sophisticated for her, but that younger minds were more amenable to remaking themselves.

Personally, I think Rand faces an uphill battle with today's youth, however open they might be to a different perspective. Immersed though it is in social philosophy, Atlas Shrugged is a novel, and its impact -- the emotional appeal of its daring ideas -- is heightened by the epic struggle of its glamorous fictional heroine to keep her doomed railroad in business against literally impossible odds. For over a thousand pages. How many of you youngsters have ever read a thousand-page novel? Would you? Can you? There is a mysterious character in the book we keep hearing about who doesn't show up until the final hundred pages, and he speaks for thirty pages on the radio. I'm sorry, but I think your teachers have mostly had their way with you, and you'll never get this far, or experience the Die Hard-finale equivalent this speech delivered to Rand enthusiasts of my generation. Where in your mind-space is there room for a 15,000 word version of "Yippee ki-ay, motherfucker"?

I'm not saying don't try. Do try. If you can see it through, you just might experience the power surge I'm talking about. That's why I'm going to give you a starter project.

There's a blessedly short precursor to Atlas Shrugged, also by Ayn Rand. It's called Anthem. Maybe 125 pages. It doesn't get much into the economics of capitalism, but it does offer an entirely new take on liberal truisms about "self esteem." It should show you what the liberal definition of that term really means and how it relates to true individualism. If you can read it and learn something from it, then you just might be ready for Atlas Shrugged. (Do NOT settle for the Cliff Notes option, or you will never be a man, my son.)

The really good news? Anthem is here, online, in full.

Afterwards, if you want to talk, we're here.

What to Do:
The American Conservative
Strikes Back.

Call them the Quickmen. Here today but already done.

ANOTHER CHANCE AT COMMENTING ON SAGACITY. Just happened on this. It's a post at Bill Quick's American Conservative Party website by a contributor who calls himself "Typewriter King." His misfortune. I stopped looking into the ACP after I got banned from even accessing the site by Mr. Quick himself, and the only reason I checked into Technorati was to find the blogger called Tenebris whom Small Dead Animals acknowledged without linking in a post I commented on here. Imagine my surprise at finding that anyone at the ACP was still interested in Instapunk after the pack leader had made him a nonperson. And then to discover that that anyone called himself Typewriter King. Which for people of my age recalls the famous David Susskind Show duel between Mailer and Capote when Mailer championed the writing of the bestselling young lion Kerouac, and Capote famously said, "Kerouac? That's not writing. That's typing."

But I won't make any more fun of Typewriter King than that. I honestly can see that the sum total of his knowledge of Capote comes from Philip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar winning performance in the movies. But the rest of his argument does merit some comment because I've been postponing a promised discussion of "what to do" that I still owe to readers of this blog. Typewriter King's misconceptions provide a fitting intro to that discussion. (Forgive the fact that in the early going I'm just having fun. It gets more substantive as I go, honest.)

He begins in the Lingua Franca of all movement-level Internet political discourse: derision.

Lolz: Instapunk Brands The ACP A Failure!

Because the World Wide Web isn't a global information network, but a glorified bulletin board system, or a virus, or a needle, or something.

(And he believes this sincerely, not at all because Bill Quick hurt his feelings.)

I'm not going to poke cheap fun at him beyond that, because I honestly can see his talent.

Oops. Boy, am I glad that I also stopped short of insulting TK personally. Even though Bill Quick really did hurt my feelings. Feelings have always been the alpha and omega of this website and its responses to political posturings by anointed saviors of all political stripes.

Although he isn't even web-savvy enough to use a proxy server to get around an IP block...

Excuse me? Who picks a lock to get into a party where he's not wanted? And worse, what host jeers at a disinvited guest for not picking the lock. If you're not seated in the best chair sucking down the best brandy by the time the dinner guests hit the drawing room, you're even worse than the bum the butler threw out before the fish course? Uh, that would be a club I wouldn't want to join even if I hadn't been blackballed during the aperitifs.

...I'll address his critique of the 'Army of Davids' approach as serious [sic] as I can.

Most of us are not politicians, which is what it takes to build effective political organizations.

He sounds to be [sic] starting off with an inferiority complex, that there's a political caste system on a higher plane that we just can't touch.

In real terms, the ambition to build a new party and use it to achieve an electoral majority is akin to turning your local model airplane club into a corporation that can beat out Boeing for commercial airline and military contracts.

He even seems to see a permanence in how the strata is [sic] stacked. Boeing is supposedly invincible in his world, even as multinational consortium like Airbus [sic] overtakes the giant in winning American military contracts (starting with the tanker contract). In other words, we just can't challenge The Man. Know your place!

The delusion that such a rank absurdity is a possible and worthwhile goal betrays the fundamental misconception about the internet which carries so many people into egotistical folly.

So enlighten us to why [sic] The Man can't be budged from his hegemony.

They believe the chief attribute of the worldwide web is as an instrument for centrally controlled, purpose-driven, broadcast communications, the unification of mass distributed resources, the recruitment of gigantic armies who can change the world. This is completely false.

OK, so we can't use teh interwebz to get Mr Universe to broadcast the word about the Pax, or to lead the reveres into attacking the fleet. What's the internet, then?

The internet is not a pipeline of any kind. It's a bulletin board.

Let's stop there for a moment, even though the last words are my own. {I won't do any more '[sic]' insertions. There could be more, but the point is made.) What's important is that wishful thinking causes TK to misrepresent ideas that are critically important. To say that politics is governed by politicians is not at all the same thing as saying that "there's a political caste system on a higher plane that we just can't touch." For example, try substituting the words "plumbing" and "plumbers" for "politics" and "politicians." Anyone out there who believes there's a plumbing caste system that's on a higher plane...? No. The scornful inference is only that. Building a party that can have true electoral clout is a lot more like plumbing than it is about sitting in your home office noodling grand concepts about how to remake the political landscape of America. It requires people who leave their dens to knock on doors, recruit candidates, secure campaign financing, obtain endorsements, attract press coverage, define hot-button issues at the local, state, and national level, and assemble teams of professionals who know how to get candidates elected in the bruising arena of real-world politics. In short, it takes "politicians." Got any of those, TK? Noting that you don't and I don't, either, is hardly revelation of an inferiority complex. It's just the facts.

He uses the same specious reasoning to attack my Boeing analogy. My stand-in for the ACP as compared to Boeing was a model airplane club. His is "multinational consortium like Airbus." So your website is more like a massively government-subsidized international cartel than a handful of amateurs with delusions of grandeur? Cool. What's the opposite of an inferiority complex?

Which is where he challenges my somewhat dismissive characterization of the Internet as a bulletin board. But what's a better analogy for what it is? He doesn't actually offer one. Instead, he lists trivial uses of its bulletin-board applications as if they were an appropriate description of what I think the medium should be used for.

For sharing ASCII art and huffing solvents until the ASCII girls look hot, right? And dominating the news group by boasting how Return of The Jedi isn't going to match the sophistication of Blade Runner, am I right?

And no one has ever been converted to anything by a bulletin board.

But you just can't stop fighting those decades-old UseNet flame wars... Appears so, as he goes on about how big and infinite the celestial bulletin board is. Spanning billions and billions...

To put it in the simplest possible terms, it's the audience that's in charge. To be influenced by you, they must be looking for you first. They must seek you out and make their own decisions about whether you are to be part of their lives or a rapidly discarded irrelevancy.

Finally, a point! And he's right. If the ACP is just the site, it's a remote island suspended in a moonbeam. Floating adrift in the cosmos, alone.

To address the final point first -- uh, yeah. All the sturm and drang of his condescension can't conceal the fact that the Internet has been most effective at doing the precise things he is sneering at: "boasting how Return of The Jedi isn't going to match the sophistication of Blade Runner." Er, right. And despite any coffee klatches the contributors schedule with one another, the ACP is just the site.

Also right when he says, in a rare moment of articulate perception, "a remote island suspended in a moonbeam." Yup. Would it be unkind to call TK a moonbeam in Courier type? Yes. I withdraw it. (Honestly, I actually like TK. It's just that he's so young. Quick doesn't have that excuse.)

But the internets aren't really a bulletin board, so change metaphors for moar [sic; sorry, I couldn't help myself] great justice.

A few internet sources became the funnel -- or hypodermic needle -- by which the cure was administered to those who believed there was an infection in the first place. That's not an "Army of Davids"; it's the normal functioning of a healthy immune system.

And how does this silly analogy invalidate the ACP? His big chunky paragraph about raTHergate in coordination does nothing to invalidate political movements online, as far as I can fathom.

Another false inference that's purely semantic. No, the Internet never ceased being a bulletin board, not even during RatherGate. No change of metaphor. As I said even in what TK quoted, "To be influenced by you, they must be looking for you first.." Alternative response to obviously outrageous news reporting is a reason to run to the bulletin board and see if there is something there which stands out from the ads for roommates, cars for sale, dog walking services, and pretentious organizing committees for new political parties. When you tack up the index card soliciting expert input about an immediate topical scandal, you have become what people are looking for, and they respond en masse -- hence the funnel or hypodermic needle effect, which is always a function of sudden external factors more than pre-planned internal strategy. The forum and the moment have simply combined for an instant to create a phenomenon, something like a tornado, which does not exist in isolation but in combination with a multitude of factors. And, yes, you can be the patch of ground in Oklahoma that hopes to attract a tornado, but until the sky and the clouds and weather fronts cooperate, you're just an index-card sized patch of Oklahoma hoping to be noticed. Meaning you can be the American Conservative Party with all the hats and horns and firecrackers you can gather in one place, but it still doesn't mean you have any real chance of attracting attention.

But he goes from asserting raTHergate was aa needle or something to calling dKos, DU, and MoveOn a disease.

The right analogy for the internet activities of the left is not military, either; it's infection. There's no effective, conscious, organizing principle at work other than destruction. Have they generated storms of angry, obscene abuse? Yes. Have they managed to focus obsessive attention on a handful of endlessly repeated charges? Yes. Have they raised money? Yes. These are all nothing but the signposts of disease -- the fever, pus, and swelling that bring doctors running.

That angry obscene abuse is called a "letter-writing campaign." The John Birch Society mastered it first, and the affect was to make '60s TV more dull, an achievement they were thorough in. The JBS did the other points well, too. At least for a while. These were tools, perfectly legitimate tools, just in the hands of the deranged. But real men don't blame their tools. They master themselves, so they'll master their tools responsibly.

What they are is the AIDS of the internet.

Kos doesn't have a vision, and indeed his movement was more often than not a big tantrum, but the AIDS you see isn't the tools of political activism, but the undercurrents of thinly-veiled Anti-Semitism and and other ill character traits in the base of users.

I'll stand by his last quotation from me in that segment. Yes, it's possible to hit a bulletin board with a can of spray paint and write obscenities all over everyone else's ads, promotions, and requests. Once again, though, you have to attract enough people to you to mobilize an army of, well, thugs. Which KOS and DU have done. And are we being told here that the real model for the ACP is the John Birch Society? A relentless letter writing campaign that does what -- splatters the bulletin board with not good or articulate but massively numerous rote messages. Well, I can pretty much guarantee you that whatever resources the ACP can command, they are not "massively numerous." Can they get ugly? I believe it if their godfather is any indication. Can they build anything that way, say, a political party? Not a chance. Massive and ugly is a recipe only for destruction. Like AIDS. As I said.

Then TK quotes me again:

America is a two-party system.

No, it isn't. That's like saying America is a one pro football league system.

It's a system that has its weaknesses, but it's better than everyone else's.

It looks like we've found a member of that rare 9% club, someone actually approving of the job done by congress. Having the option of picking between a giant douche and a turd sandwich was good enough for my grandpa, it should be good enough for you and me!

The internet doesn't change that. But it can be used to facilitate and magnify the impact of local efforts.

So he likes building sand castles with bulldozers. But what's he saying? No hub? Building a national hub is a virus or needle or what? Someone tell me what he's saying!

Sorry, TK. America is a one pro football league system. Perhaps the ACP should acquaint itself with the fates of the USFL, the XFL, and the Arena Football League. Tits up, all of them. Here's the bald fact of the matter. If there's something you don't like about professonal football in America, your best bet -- if you're not a hopeless delusionary -- is to call the NFL to account and do whatever is necessary to make them more responsible and responsive to the fans. I don't approve pf NFL management any more than I approve of the performance of congress. I just can't wish either of them out of existence by pretending I can start over from scratch with a fantasy league I've configured on my PC.

But the really good news (potentially) is that America is not a one-party system. If we hold to your football analogy, we're a two league system. The leagues are in competition. You can use one to damage, rehabilitate, or overcome the other in terms of ticket sales and national interest. That's pretty interesting, given that the last time America was a two-league football nation, the plutocrats moved as swiftly as possible toward consolidation and monopoly. Which is where we seem to be headed now in politics. Now consider this: would it have been smarter to work toward retaining the independence and viability of the old AFL when it was on the precipice of merging with the old NFL -- or racing off to start the XFL via a handful of bulletin board announcements in cities that didn't even have professional football teams?

TK knows in his heart of hearts that I'm right. He sounds almost plaintive at the end of what started out as a confident polemic:

The only real point of any merit is the level of insularity within the party. The party doesn't send out a spokesman on a speaking tour of other internet radio shows, it just hosts it's own and hopes people stumble on it, for example. I can check Google News and never see a mention from all the pixel papers in the 'verse. No one reaches out, they just wait for some "official person" to do it, but there are not Official People.

In that sense, the bulletin board critique is valid. But that's it, and what a dim view of the internet! Being younger than Instapunk, I see online collaboration as not much different at all from real-world collaboration. That everyone here is scattered across the country and not in close proximity in "meat space" is incidental. There's nothing more magical about sharing a paper through a file attachment than through handing over a sheet fresh from a typewriter. But IP sees that as less real, so the brick-and-mortar establishment must always hold the advantage.

What rubbish! The information is just as real, just as valid. On the web, it just happens everyone can conference without climbing in and out of jets to meet up. There's really little difference.

But even in the bulletin board critique he thought so clever, he's historically wrong. For it was through the bulletin board that Martin Luther transmitted his Ninety-five Theses. The very tool IP mocked took on Rome and catalyzed the schism that ripped England and much of northern Europe from Papal control. It sparked a thirty year war. The Protestant Reformation that ultimately lead to a pilgrimage to the New World owes itself to a bulletin board in a German university.

I know of no reason why the tool isn't still capable of such achievements.

    * By Typewriter_King

So now he fancies himself Martin Luther. I give him maximum points for wistfulness. Unfortunately for him, the 95 Theses weren't printed on one of 95 billion index cards nailed to the door of the Vatican.

Sorry, Typewriter King. Didn't mean to be mean. But your energy and passion are misplaced. There are things that can be done. The ACP just doesn't happen to be one of them.

I'll stop here. But all you IP readers have my promise that I will return shortly to the question of what individuals can do. I warn you that you might not like the answers right away, but after you've thought about them, you'll realize that they can make your own lives better long before they bear fruit in the world at large.

You have my word on it.

UPDATE. Dirty Rotten Varmint offered a comment and closed with this question: "How much is the value of this great BBS called the Internet in its use as a tool to preserve "the remnant"?" Which reminded me of a Swinburne poem I've always enjoyed reading aloud. I won't explain what, if any, relevance it has to the subject at hand, because I have all of you out there to imagine it for me. The first two stanzas are:

    A Litany

ἐν οὐρανῷ φαεννὰς
κρύψω παρ' ὑμὶν αὐγὰς,
μίας πρὸ νυκτὸς ἑπτὰ νύκτας ἕξετε, κ.τ.λ
                    -- Anth. Sac

ALL the bright lights of heaven
    I will make dark over thee;
One night shall be as seven
    That its skirts may cover thee;
I will send on thy strong men a sword,
    On thy remnant a rod;
Ye shall know that I am the Lord,
    Saith the Lord God.

All the bright lights of heaven
    Thou hast made dark over us;
One night has been as seven
    That its skirt might cover us;
Thou hast sent on our strong men a sword,
    On our remnant a rod;
We know that thou art the Lord,
    O Lord our God.  

You can read the whole thing here. Don't worry. Be happy.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Free Market Ironies

Wouldn't it be great if we could be as advanced as China?

OUR FRIENDLY NEW MARSHAL. Does anybody remember when Barack Obama watched the Olympics on TV and declared the Chinese ahead of the U.S. in infrastructure investment? You know. The government runs the economy there. Like what our new president wants to do with his "stimulus" bill. So he can fix all our free awfulness. Like his dictator friends always do. And the media couldn't be any more happy to help us learn from our betters like Chavez, Castro, and Kim Dum Ill. Yesterday, for example, the Drudge Report was all pleased and everything to report that Chinese motor vehicle sales surpassed U.S. vehicle sales for the first time in history -- even though the linked article pointed out that the comparison was apples to oranges:

”This is the first time in history that China has surpassed the US,” said Michael DiGiovanni, GM’s head of global sales and industry analysis.

However, auto market analysts in China said the figures were not comparable because the Chinese figure included all vehicles produced in China - including heavy commercial vehicles and buses - while the US figure did not. Chinese passenger car production last year was 5.8m.

Even so. Here's a picture of what the Chinese auto industry has been able to produce after starting just a few years ago from a vehicle base of oxcarts:

Cool, huh? The Chinese-built Brilliance BS6.

It's got to be one of the big reasons the Obama stimulus bill -- with all its emphasis on infrastructure and long-term "strategic" investments in the economy of the future -- has to be passed right now lest we sink into a depression from which we never recover. It's imperative that we get more like China, a country properly ruled by an elite political class that knows better how to do everything than the poor schlubs who consistently screw up western capitalist economies. Forget the New Deal. We're in Sputnik territory now. We've got to catch up with the "Great Leap Forward" technology of Red China or wither on the vine. Right?

Well, maybe. A great thing about the worldwide Internet China's government is presently trying to shut down: you can count on the fact that regardless of the subject, somebody somewere is blogging about it. Here's a post I found called Chinese Copycats. (Forgive the semantic errors. Their heart is in the right place and I refuse to insert [sic] in every sentence. So there.)

Piracy in China of any kind has always been rampant and its never easy to control due to the size of this nation. Anything that can be copied will be copied so long there is a market for it. It ranged from pirated copies of Spiderman 3 DVD to watchmaker brands to even automobiles.

The almost look alike between the Mercedes C vs Chinese designed Geely Merrie 300 above are just blatant copies of their more established counterparts. Spot the difference with more pictures below.

Rolls-Royce Phantom vs Hongqi HQD

BMW 7 series vs BYD F6. Uh, Brilliance.

BMW vs BYD. Well, it's more Barack-ish than the German version.

Honda CRV vs Laibao SRV

Toyota Prado vs Dadi Shuttle

Smart vs Chinese Smart

Maybe the Chinese economy isn't quite as creative as its free-market competitors. So what? They're looking out for the little people, aren't they? Their copies of capitalist products are just as good even if they're not very original, right?

Uh, no. They're not. Remember that cool luxo-cruiser above called the "Brilliance"? Here's another angle on it:

Ouchie. Do you think the driver's okay?

Unfortunately, he's not okay. He's a fried dumpling.

And here's an excerpt from a European road test report:

Germany's ADAC, a cross between AAA and the IIHS, has performed a crash test on the Chinese-built Brilliance BS6 under Euro NCAP guidelines and the results aren't pretty, to say the least. The car earned just one star for passenger safety -- Euro NCAP uses a single rating that combines the results of front offset and side-impact crash tests that are identical to those performed by the IIHS. As the ADAC puts it, "The midsize sedan is as far from reaching optimal safety standards as Peking is from Potsdam." The BS6 thus becomes the second Chinese car to score dismally in German crash tests, with the first being the infamous Jiangling Landwind.

You're not familiar with the Jiangling Landwind crash test? Allow us to bring you, uh, up to speed.

You see, a command economy like the one Obama thinks we need can force capitalist-style manufacturing organizations to produce new products very quickly. But if they're reporting to the government instead of the consumer market, important things can be forgotten along the way. For example, it's possible to make a lot of cheap, low-quality rip-offs of high-quality originals. It's also possible to torpedo the whole tradition of safety and utility in favor of politically correct deathtraps like the Smart Car (and, yes, the even deadlier Chinese Smart Car.) That's where the irony comes in. The oppressive, exploitative free market eventually optimizes the trade-off between cost and safety in response to consumer buying decisions, while the much more "people"-oriented government-controlled economy tends to optimize only its own public relations targets, whatever they might be. And very very sadly, authoritarian governments all seem to live by an odd retro code.

"It is better to look good than feel good." Especially when the world's watching.

Funny how that works, ain't it? Soulless capitalism ultimately opts for safety while the dictatorship of the proletariat dictates terms that kill the proletariat. I mean, do you want your daughter driving a Smart Car alongside all those tractor trailers on the Turnpike? Only a socialist would be so heartless as to make you do that to her.

Catch up to China? Let's hope the market doesn't let Obama pursue that particular dream. Please. If he insists on following that example, we could get good at a lot of useless, stupid, imitative crap. Which you can enjoy if you want, but this I know: I don't want one of these things ever.

The Chinese Cheetah. Unless it's the Cheet-er.

Sorry if that taints your Obama-Aura or something.

I said I was sorry.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

More Simple Arithmetic

PREVIOUS LESSON. Nancy Pelosi's little gaffe yesterday about 500 million Americans losing their jobs every month that the "stimulus" package isn't passed should be a reminder that the numbers being tossed around in Washington, DC, these days have long since crossed over into the Land of Oz.

The truth is that federal government spending, however huge the numbers sound, can't have a very large positive effect on the economy. Why? Arithmetic.

The Gross Domestic Product of the United States in 2008 was approximately $14.3 trillion. Let's look at the actual number:


Got that? Okay. The total cost of the stimulus package, so far, is $925 billion. Let's pretend that every dollar of the package will add directly to the GDP.

+     925,000,000,000

Impressed? Or just drawing a blank? Well, what if we cut these numbers down to a size us ordinary mortals can comprehend?

+     925,000,000,000

Are you impressed now? The way the Democrats want you to calculate it (in their dreams anyway), the stimulus bill will grow the U.S. economy by about 6.5 percent, which would be a very good year even in times of prosperity. If the $14,300 were your annual income and someone offered you $925, would you take it? Yes?

What if you could only get the $925 if had to spend it all on specific things: installing new rain gutters, planting some bushes in the front yard, adding a wheelchair ramp to your front door, and laying in a year's supply of condoms? Still interested?

What if it turns out that the money is actually not a gift but a loan? You see, the government doesn't actually have the $925. It has to borrow the principal with you as a co-signer, and you have to immediately begin repaying principal plus interest, which on average at the end of 2008 was about 4 percent. In fact, it's a lot like a mortgage. Now your $925 isn't a 6.5 percent increase in this year's income but something considerably less than that.

Still on board? Really? There are are a couple of other strings attached you may want to know about. You're already pretty heavily in debt, and as we've seen, the $925 is kind of a one-time thing because those condoms and the new rain gutter aren't going to earn you any money next year. If you should face some kind of additional emergency later this year or next, it's going to be much harder and more expensive to procure the loan you need then, and you might not be able to get it at all. And please don't forget, that $925 less principal and interest payments isn't money in the bank; it's in the wheelchair ramp.

Are you feeling stimulated?

I know you can make the argument that even if this kind of stimulus doesn't help you much, it might help others and so you should go along with it. The $925 may not be purchasing something you wanted, but it's good news for the rain gutter contractor, the landscaper who put in the bushes, the carpenter who built the ramp, the lumber yard where he got the materials, and the drugstore where you bought the condoms. Except that these are all one-time benefits for them as well. Nobody's power to earn future income has been improved in any way. And you're paying for it.

For how long? It's possible that the $925 you got was a long-term loan, and you'll be paying 4 percent or more on the principal for years, maybe even a generation.

There's yet another potential downside. If the loan papers you signed said anything about "creating jobs" through all this directed spending, it may well be the case that your principal liability is a lot more than $925. It might be that you've actually agreed to long-term contracts with the rain gutter people and the landscaper, that you're now on the hook to pay them every year for more gutters you don't need and more bushes you don't want.

Feeling more prosperous yet? Or would you prefer to have your gross tax rate reduced by 6.5 percent instead? This time, I'll let you do the math.

Now. Are you ready to talk about bailouts?

Our new president is talking all high and mighty about what he will and will not tolerate from the businessmen he's rescuing with government funds. Sounds like he has a lot of power, doesn't it?

How much is he spending on these bailouts anyway? Some estimates run as high as $3 trillion in troubled asset purchases and stock ownership in ailing corporations deemed too big to fail. The total cost of such "bailouts" strikes most economists as a stupendous figure, even a backbreaking figure. Does this mean the president is essentially buying a majority interest in the asset base of the U.S. economy? Is that why he's handing down commandments like Moses on Mt. Sinai?

The total estimated net worth (wealth) of  U.S. households is estimated at $60 trillion. (Have you ever heard that number before?) The government's acquisition of $3 trillion worth is about 5 percent of that. And it's the 5 percent that's most in danger of losing all its value.

Indeed, that's the most relevant fact about the government's power when it intervenes in asset ownership in this way. Almost all its power is negative. It absolutely has the power to reduce the value of  its $3 trillion investment to zero. In so doing, it can also seriously undermine the value of the $57 trillion that remains in private hands. But with a mere five percent stake, it cannot fundamentally change business practices by bullying the institutions under its control. Management of the other 95 percent of the asset base will continue to be ruled by self-interest and the laws of economics. Obama can decree that the executives he owns are limited to $500,000 a year in income (or $1 if he so chooses), but without passing new laws he cannot alter the behavior of the market as a whole one whit. If all the people who know the most about the banking and financial businesses of the United States leave Wall Street for jobs in financial and other companies not owned by the government, Obama will have succeeded only in destroying those assets under his stewardship. Are there better-paying jobs for financial executives in the other 95 percent of the economy? You tell me.

And, again, without compounding the business woes of the nation by driving the bailout companies into dissolution, there can be no excuse for further government acquisitions in the private sector. The market is more powerful than the president. And if Obama should seek more powers of interference after completing the ruin of Wall Street and Detroit, on what basis should we, or would we, trust him to do a better job in his next amateurish round of presidential Monopoly?

$60 trillion. Think about that number. That's the real power of "we, the people." It's the shoulder behind our votes if we will only begin to believe again in our own might more than we do in a feckless, unproductive government that seeks to buy our faith with a piddling $925 billion they'll have to borrow from us before they can get their pictures taken giving it away.

Who's got the real power? Keep asking yourselves that question until you fully understand the answer. And when you do understand, never yield that power without a fight.

Some Thoughts on My List of
25 (uh, 35) American Movies

We've come a long way since the first blockbuster.

WE ALSO LIKE UN-MOVING MOVIES. For anyone who didn't follow the list as I was posting it, here are the entries in order:

I almost didn't follow through on my promise to do a reflective final post, but once again I have a commenter to thank for bringng me back on task. In a response to this fairly optimistic IP post, Dirty Rotten Varmint (his choice of name, not mine) had this to say:

...While "the truth" is, sometimes, out there in Interwebland, the worldview of the vast majority of Americans is still shaped by popular media. The MSM is not so much dying out as becoming formally a state-run news system (whereas previously, since 1973 a least, it was an informal state-run news system). The universities, the popular media (MSM), Hollywood, popular culture, the government, and even major corporations conspire to promote a view of the world and of America that is distinctly un-American. Name the last major movie in which the hero is an entrepreneur who builds a business providing a valuable product or service and gets rich doing it. Which news reporter, other than Mike Yon and a few others, delivers completely honest and accurate reports about the war while at the same time clearly stating that he is pro-American and admires the heroism of American soldiers? And is Mike Yon the director of a well-funded news room with resources and funding, or scraping by on his own?

Our children are brainwashed, from the time they enter school, to believe that America is evil. Their cultural icons show them that popular girls are whores, successful boys are pimps and thugs, and people who are good at math are losers. If they manage to go to college, they are taught Marxist class, racial, and gender warfare propaganda at every lecture. Women learn that being mothers is somehow a betrayal of "feminism"and that sexual promiscuity is their "right". Men are taught that they are are evil, hormone-controlled animals who are incapable of being strong, caring providers and leaders - or that they are self-interested, monomaniacal misogynists who are to blame for all the world's evils.

America failed when FDR was President and railroaded through the national socialist "New Deal". Beyond the economic catastrophe, we put American citizens into concentration camps on American soil. Obama clearly plans to model himself after FDR. We can fail again.

Make no mistake, while America is resilient, she can be dragged through the gutter just like any other nation, and at some point she will be too sullied to climb out of the stink. [boldface emphases mine]

I understand all his points. I even agree with some of them. But he is wrong that popular culture is a monolith. It's more complicated than that because Americans are more complicated than that. Liberals are consistently wrong about how ignorant, prejudiced, and inflexible the people they call rednecks are. And conservatives are at least often wrong about how anti-American and nihilistic the people who prefer to be called progressives are. Drawing up this list was an exercise that whittled away at the easy polarity of the opposing manichaean perspectives. We're far more interesting than that, as the List of 35 demonstrated, to me anyway. Which is especially interesting given that most of the creative people behind the movies on my list were/are the (frequently) propagandizing progressives Dirty Rotten Varmint (DRV) is talking about.

For example, I was struck by how many movies on the list were the work of directors who seemed to be defying simplistic characterizations of their worldviews that might be inferred from their other movies and even their public political utterances. In Malcolm X, Spike Lee celebrates a painfully acquired self-education and self-discipline in the life of his protagonist that he appears not to require of other African-American characters in his movies. Despite his pitiful Obama commercial and distasteful Bush-bashing, Ron Howard in Apollo 13 executes a beautiful homage to detached whitebread nerds and heroes who undoubtedly come from Kansas and Texas and Nebraska and probably vote straight-ticket, flag-waving Republican. Columbia grad James Mangold made Walk the Line, which defies his east-coast influences by offering a sympathetic portrait of a country singer who exhibited every white-trash male stereotype and yet steals your heart. And in answer to DRV's challenge, "Name the last major movie in which the hero is an entrepreneur who builds a business," Martin Scorsese's The Aviator is one slam-dunk example. This perpetual champion of the disadvantaged immigrant underclasses manages to deliver a multi-faceted portrait of a rich boy who was also a technical and business genius, a heroically brave pioneer of aviation, and a creative polymath. Not to mention every bit as tortured a soul as the icon Scorsese made of the brutish fighter Jake LaMotta. (DRV: For another example of positive entrepreneurship, see Sea Biscuit from the list. There's nothing jeering about the terse success story that leads to his wealth. P.S. You didn't read my whole movie list, did you?)

Are such performances against type hypocritical? No. They're indicative of something much more positive and profound. No American ever really escapes the power of the archteypally American story. It's bred into all of us, and even the ideologues who are at base talented storytellers tend to see their stories in human rather than allegorically political terms (For an example of the latter, see the original Italian version of Swept Away, whose political climax is a rape replete with communist-bourgeoisie rhetoric. By all means look it up. The politics are so transparently obvious they result in unintended hilarity, and the actress is an ultimate gorgeous bitch who should have deterred Madonna from her disastrous remake. But, you know... ) The reduction of human individuality to mere political symbolism is distinctively not a feature of American movie-making. This is where the American impatience with ideas actually pays dividends. If there is a political, topical, or ideological message, it still has to be sold through the personality of an engaging character. Which makes all such movies more American story than political manifesto.

Which, in the context of DRV's pessimism, is all good news. People can be politically naive, superficial, and simplistic and at the same time emotionally honest and keyed in to the verities of human life. That's the way human beings are. It's especially the way Americans are. Politically, in my opinion, Ron Howard is an idiot. But there is genuine merit in his movies Backflash, Cinderella Man, and Apollo 13. Politically, in my opinion, Tom Hanks is an idiot. But there is genuine merit in his performance in Saving Private Ryan and in his miniseries Band of Brothers. In a variety of ways, in my opinion, Mel Gibson is an idot, but there is genuine merit in his movies The River and We Were Soldiers.

The larger message is that Hollywood, despite its much publicized political excesses, is not wholly the enemy of a distinctively and traditionally American lifestyle. Movies, in fact, have a disproportionate influence on the self-images and aspirations of young people. It's true that teen sex comedies are lewd and possibly destructive, but they are less than half the message Hollywood sends to young people. The other half, the larger half, consists of absolutely traditional American stories, many of them concerning comic book heroes who are laughable to social critics but instrumental in perpetuating a distinctively American mythology of individual goodness and sacrifice against malignant evil, either pure or misguided, but indistinguishable in its requirement to be opposed and terminated. Hollywood may be anti-American in its expressed policies, but it is red-white-and-blue when it iconizes the selfless heroism of Spiderman, Batman, and the X-Men -- and the brave, virtuous women who love them, even if they're superheroes too. The messages are unambigious: evil exists, it must be fought, it can be overcome by heroic individual effort, and all the consequent sacrifices are worth it in the end.

Another way of saying that movies -- written, directed, and performed by America-hating leftists -- are counter-intuitively pro-Amreican, Christian in iconography, and firmly focused on the primacy of individual character.

Despite its showy leftism, Hollywood is still in the business of promulgating Americans' mythology of themselves. Winners. Achievers. People of humble origins who become superheroes. Routinely.

So they make nasty little political diatribes on the side and give themselves awards for it as a kind of raspberry to the audience they can't quite live up to. How would you feel if you always had to play the hero when you just knew you didn't have it in you? Resentful? Envious? Hostile? If you knew that there really were heroes who are actually as good looking as you are but don't spend hours in the mirror every day making sure of it?

Remember. We don't pay the actors to write the scripts We pay them to live out our dreams. Our American dreams. And they've done that very well for close to a hundred years now.

At their best, they've shone us ourselves, in admittedly idealized terms. But those ideal terms enshrine our values and encourage each new generation to dream of accomplishment and victory against all the banes DRV is so afraid of:  poor, misguided education, sloth and surrender to mediocrity, cowardice, treachery, and, most of all, untrueness to self.

Back to my list. It represents all parts of the political spectrum. All the political lines are crossed. Rightwinger Eastwood does a moving portrayal of Charlie Parker. Leftwinger Ron Howard does an equally moving portrayal of NASA geeks. All are bound by their allegiance to American stories. And what makes those stories American is not collectivist politics but individual aspiration, spiritual commitment, and incredibly focused effort. Men, women, black, white, young, old, right, left, strong, weak, and whatever combination of the above floats your boat. In short, America. As it was, is, and will be. When it gets down to its most influential work, Hollywood is generally doing a "right" thing.

I rest my case.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Melting Messiah?

I TOLD YOU SO. It's easy to minimize the bumps in the road that have gotten the biggest play in the press, but Obama's problems may already go beyond a few lame cabinet choices and a rocky introduction to the process of working with the congress. Victor Davis Hanson has a brief but excellent analysis of the president's missteps thus far, and his conclusions are sobering.

The Impending Obama Meltdown

Some of us have been warning that it was not healthy for the U.S. media to have deified rather than questioned Obama, especially given that they tore apart Bush, ridiculed Palin, and caricatured Hillary. And now we can see the results of their two years of advocacy rather than scrutiny.

We are quite literally after two weeks teetering on an Obama implosion—and with no Dick Morris to bail him out—brought on by messianic delusions of grandeur, hubris, and a strange naivete that soaring rhetoric and a multiracial profile can add requisite cover to good old-fashioned Chicago politicking...

Hanson proceeds to offer up an itemized list of major blunders at home and abroad. The former are serious, but the latter are rapidly mounting up to potential disaster.

Abroad, some really creepy people are lining up to test Obama's world view of "Bush did it/but I am the world": The North Koreans are readying their missiles; the Iranians are calling us passive, bragging on nukes and satellites; Russia is declaring missile defense is over and the Euros in real need of iffy Russian gas; Pakistanis say no more drone attacks (and then our friends the Indians say "shut up" about Kashmir and the Euros order no more "buy American").

This is quite serious. I can't recall a similarly disastrous start in a half-century (far worse than Bill Clinton's initial slips). Obama immediately must lower the hope-and-change rhetoric, ignore Reid/Pelosi, drop the therapy, and accept the tragic view that the world abroad is not misunderstood but quite dangerous... If he doesn't quit the messianic style and perpetual campaign mode, and begin humbly governing, then he will devolve into Carterism—angry that the once-fawning press betrayed him while we the people, due to our American malaise, are to blame.

It's all well and good to end a dismal reckoning with upbeat bullet points about how to clean up the mess, but Hanson's finale is the only disingenuous part of his essay. In some sense, all this was -- and is -- inevitable. The frightening core of the situation is that Obama really is more messiah than politician. Yes, he showed considerable talent and flair at getting elected, as well as a ruthlessness about tactics which must have convinced his inside-the-beltway followers that he was, something like Reagan and JFK before him, a Natural. But the attainment of high office is only half the skill set of a gifted politician. The other half is the tempering of ideological conviction with the grubby pragmatism of problem solving: being a shrewd and skeptical judge of character, knowing the difference between delegating and losing control, and understanding when pure idealism must bow to the realities of the people, places, and timeframes involved.

But messiahs don't sell, bargain, close deals, and hammer out tough compromises. They simply speak and expect everyone to accept their wisdom. That's why Obama still hasn't figured out that all his gloom and doom characterizations of the economy are the antithesis of effective presidential politics. He is a true contemporary liberal, which means that he is a deep down opponent of America's traditional rugged individualism and can-do spirit.

Back in October 2005 I took the liberty of describing the real core beliefs of liberals. Does any of this ring a bell in terms of the rhetoric you've heard from Obama and the Democrat congress since the election? (Coincidentally(?), this was another time when Limbaugh was under assault for his claim to speak on behalf of conservative principles.)

What Limbaugh doesn't say is that liberals could articulate their own views almost as clearly if they weren't so at odds with the pesky national consensus that determines election outcomes. They could say: "We believe in group entitlements, expanding government, government-managed socialist economies, a judiciary empowered to act as an elitest super-legislature, rigid public secularism, government redistribution of assets, opportunities, and rights based on race and sex, and subordination of the national interest to the rulings of international bodies. We support government schooling under the absolute control of teacher unions, urban-centric government make-work programs, tax increases and increasing progressivity of tax rates, dynamic expansion of welfare into the middle class (a la France and Germany), exclusion of all religious institutions from public life, government controls on political speech we dislike, subordination of property rights to government-based social engineering initiatives, and a swift end to all military and unilateral aspects of the war on terror."

But they will not say such things out loud because they know a slender majority of Americans are too stupid to understand the superior wisdom of their ideology.

All that's changed since then is that Obama won the election and somehow believes this fact means the nation as a whole subscribes to exactly the beliefs enumerated above. He thinks we're all, or mostly, converts to this dark view of the American opportunity. Everything about us is wrong and he's been Chosen to fix us and the country. He believes our belief in him is so strong that it will survive even a prolonged period of chaos while he remakes the social contract and the international scene in the image of his utopian vision.

Any real politician would know just how thoroughly wrong that particular belief of his is. No heterogeneous population will long accept a vision that is fundamentally bleak and insulting to the people it's supposed to inspire.

Obama has begun as he had to. He will proceed as he must. I don't doubt that he still has some smoke and mirrors in his arsenal, but eventually smoke blows away in the wind, and the empty image inside the mirror may very well shatter it beyond repair.

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